Copenhagen Velobahn

I could not meet with any of Copenhagen’s big kahunas of cycling today. They were all in a symposium. Conducted in Danish, would you believe! Otherwise, I would have done a Friedensreich Hundertwasser on them all, and stormed the meeting with nothing on, grabbed a microphone and chanted over and over, "Velobahn! Velobahn! Velobahn!" What does velobahn mean? I’m glad you asked!
Copenhagen has led the world when it comes to neighbourhood cycling and short range commuting. And yes, that’s all very healthy for sure, and if slow cycling were any more healthy, it would make people fit. But with all the traffic lights, and this 20km p/h business that is encouraged, I find it hard raising a sweat. Copenhagen is shortchanging itself by not trying to drag greater health benefits from cycling. I don’t mean for all. Just the fitness nut Danes. (I will come to your velobahn question shortly, I promise). 

I accept too that the cycling done here in Copenhagen might be of some good to the planet, compared to burning more fossil fuels. But wouldn’t the total benefit be ten fold if cycling were pitched to those outlying plebs of this city, who are currently accounting for most of Copenhagen’s vehicular traffic? I’m talking about people who should be allowed to ride fast, encouraged to, so that cycling will be a better option for them, despite their living so far from town. They should not be slowed to 20 km p/h when they hit the green-voting, recycling, piety belt (oh, I can be quite the provocateur when I choose!) If I am raising you ire, do read on. You will love me presently.   

To be perfectly clear, I am arguing that those suburbanites be given a chance to ride bikes, and ride them fast. Better to have them coming to town on a fast bike, than in a fast car, that is more dangerous, and which chokes up the city. (I have not forgotten my promise to tell you all about velobahns. You may need to prepare your mind for it though, by confronting any traces of bourgeois piety, clogging your thinking). 

Piety is protestantism’s mixed blessing, flowing from the doctrine of predestination. Where grandma might have dragged herself to church sunday morning, to assure herself she was one of god’s chosen, her grandchildren (today’s Copenhagenites) assure themselves they are not among the unwashed, by living the new religion: green urbanism. Doing their bit for urban consolidation, activating the street, recycling their rubbish: all this assures them, that they are inherently better. And who are the non-church goers these days? They are the suburbanite slobs, who we speak about as though they just don’t understand anything of importance these days. But you know, the pious need those slobs. They (we) need them as surely as church goers in Amsterdam need their red light district. People who think they are better (like me), need darkness in which to shine.

Well get over yourselves Copenhagen! Shine against the dark of the world, not your fellow Danes in the suburbs. Start building what I am here dubbing Velobahns. 

A guy in Toronto named Chris Hardwicke has a great proposal for his city, that of course has fallen on deaf ears thus far. It involves cyclists riding in giant long tubes, pushed along by each other’s back-drafts. In Copenhagen, such a system running below the metro line South to Orestads, for example, could give that white elephant town half a chance of succeeding. People don’t want to ride to the metro, chain up their bike, pay for the metro, wait for the metro, ride the metro, then have to walk when they get there. Nobody likes mode changing.    
Something like Hardwicke’s idea, that I’m calling Velobahns, could follow Copenhagen’s various metro lines, be built over roads, or tunnelled or suspended wherever there is potential (not current) demand. If they were mechanically pumped with air to create gale force back-drafts, then wow, people on performance road bikes, or in velo-mobiles, could rocket to work at the speed of a car. Even those of us on our sit up and beg bikes, would make pretty good speed. 

And where would these speed freak cyclists ride, when they hit town? On existing networks built for slow cyclists? Good heavens no! They would kill those who have every right to go slow. No, these suburbanite speedsters should be given the middle of city roads, that they will no longer be clogging with their own cars. My problem with Copenhagen, is they are afraid to utter what they really want: no cars at all. They’re tongue tied by their otherwise charming Skando reserve. 


  1. Anonymous says:

    The difference between rhetoric and reality

    Thank you.
    I am really and truly over the “Copenhagen/Amsterdam” references. Don’t even start me on slow upright cycling…

    I recently wrote a blog posting which reflected on another post I uploaded to both Sydney Cyclist and Melbourne. This was on the extremely important issue of “helmet hair”.

    Inevitably I received feedback which included the Amsterdam experience. Having just returned from The Hague, this was my response,
    “It’s different (in Melbourne, sic) though. Amsterdam has 750,000 people. It’s flat and there isn’t anywhere to go….I just came back from The Hague (no, not for crimes) and I gave up taking photos of cyclists. I saw more than my fair share of beautiful women and men of all ages cycling without helmets. I almost ran into the dapper old chap in his cashmere coat, smoking a cigar; then there was the much older woman with her leopard skin panniers and mildly inappropriately low airbrushed top…..
    At the end of the day, it felt like it must for someone from Blackpool taking photos of Bondi.
    Yes, if you have everything going for you, you can airbrush some budgies on your nadgers and surf to your heart’s content.
    If not, you wear 5mm spring suits and dream…”

    Now, apart from considering the ending the funniest thing I’ve ever written, I remain unconvinced by the experience and your posting demonstrates why. The Hague is not dissimilar to what you describe. Lovely quiet inner city with ring roads and no cyclists beyond them.

    In many ways I think we actually do a better job in Australia, but who am I to speak? Apparently I make up a small minority of cyclists
    and even then, I’m only worried about whether I can get from A to B without glowing!

    Hope you’re enjoying your tour. I do consider you an academic legend. If only I could be so clever as to bring together my love for design and cycling with student tours….

  2. Anonymous says:

    that is the first time I have read that Copentopia has a 20kmph speed limit for bikes. Why is that not advertised in the velo media?

    • Steven says:

      Hi, it’s not a speed limit as such. You can go faster, but you will hit a red light. Their problem is the bike lanes are 2.3m wide, not enough to have some going 30 and some going 10. So they time the traffic lights to reward doing 20. The system works perfectly. It’s just that faster riders are needing an extra lane in some places, or better still the whole road without cars 🙂
      Thanks for the comment!

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